Court orders release of some redacted passages of Mueller report
A federal judge is ordering the Department of Justice (DOJ) to release four redacted pages of the Mueller report that detail who the special counsel declined to charge in his probe into Trump campaign ties to Russia.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with BuzzFeed News in the case, directing a lower court to force the DOJ to unredact the pages, revealing both the names of high-level Trump campaign aides — a group expected to include Donald Trump Jr. — and the rationale for not charging them.
The investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller ultimately did not find sufficient evidence to charge former President Trump with a crime, but it detailed efforts Russia made to support his candidacy.
And buried in the redacted passages is the rationale behind not pursuing a campaign finance violation charge against a high-level Trump campaign staffer, likely Donald Trump Jr., as well as others who were investigated but ultimately not charged for making false statements and obstruction of justice.
“The redacted material covers how the Special Counsel carried out his duties to investigate and prosecute criminal conduct. … This public interest suffices to tip the balance in favor of disclosure, at least with respect to the information relating to individuals investigated for campaign violations,” Judge Karen Henderson wrote in an opinion for the court.
The Justice Department fought the release of the records under a public records exemption covering law enforcement matters, but BuzzFeed argued the information they contained “is precisely the kind of information that would allow the public to understand substantive matters of important law enforcement policy.”
The case involved an in camera review, which allowed the judges to review an unredacted copy of the Mueller report.
“Disclosure would also show how the Special Counsel interpreted the relevant law and applied it to already public facts in reaching his declination decisions. We reject DOJ’s argument that the public interest is reduced because ‘[m]ost of the Mueller Report has already been disclosed’ and the ‘Congress has also released a substantial volume of information about the events underlying the Special Counsel’s investigation,’” Henderson wrote.
“Those statements, in and of themselves, may be true but they are irrelevant to the fact that the Special Counsel’s legal analysis that led to the declination decisions has not been released and likely would ‘contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government.’”
The decision is only a partial victory for BuzzFeed. Left redacted are portions of the report dealing with those who are not public figures, with the court determining that the outlet did not make a sufficient case for disclosing the “highly stigmatizing” information given the potential reputational harm faced by those whose identities would be revealed.
“Of the individuals whose privacy interests may be jeopardized by disclosure of the requested information, only one is a public official. The remaining individuals are private citizens who served on a presidential campaign,” the court wrote.